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WISDOM FROM THE WILD CHILD GARDEN: MARCH 2023: POLLINATOR GARDENING: Part II

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: COVER CROPS: Native plant species are a great addition to the garden because they are already adapted to the local landscape. Native plants can improve the water quality of the community and its aquatic life. Cover crops are one way to provide habitat for pollinators. Plants in the legume family provide a source of pollen and nectar, but they only bloom for a short time.


Native cover crop larval host plants to grow in West Tennessee:

• Alfalfa (Medicago sativa): yellow alfalfas.

• Clover (Trifolium repens): clouded yellows and common blues.

• Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis): blues and sulphurs.

• Mustard (Brassica nigra): orange tips and small whites.

• Vetch (Vicia sativa): skippers and funereal dusky wings.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: HERBS: many herbs are useful plants for the larvae of butterflies and moths. Butterfly larvae like dill, fennel and parsley. Not only are herbs great plants for butterfly larvae, but they are also a favorite of bees and other pollinators as well. Chives are a bee magnet in the garden, and borage, lavender, mint, thyme, basil, and lemon balm are also favorites.


Native herb larval host plants to grow in West Tennessee:

• Anise (Pimpinella anisum): anise and black swallowtail.

• Dill (Anethum graveolens): black swallowtail.

• Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): black swallowtail.

• Mint (Mentha piperita): orange sulphur.

• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): black swallowtail.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: PERENNIALS: a wide variety of perennials provide for the entire life cycle of beneficial pollinators. Goldenrod and asters feed over 100 different species of butterfly. Geraniums, yarrow, and black-eyed Susan are also favorites.


Native perennial larval host plants to grow in Tennessee:

• Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve): checkerspots & crescents.

• Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): monarchs.

• Hollyhock (Alcea rosea): painted ladies.

• Mallow (Malva sylvestris): gray hairstreak.

• Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea): painted ladies.

• Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpura): silvery checkerspot.

• Turtlehead (Chelone oblique): Baltimore checkerspot.

• Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis): wild indigo dusky wing.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: SHRUBS: native shrubs and bushes not only enhance the landscape but are also host plants for butterflies to lay their eggs on. And since butterfly shrubs come in many shapes and heights, they can fit in any number of locations and situations including front beds, windbreaks, or privacy hedges. Larval host shrubs are multi-Purpose. They attract butterflies by providing food for their caterpillars, and they can also attract a variety of wildlife to the outdoor living space by providing protection, shelter, and nectar.


Native shrubs to grow in West Tennessee include:

• American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana): spring azures.

• Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum): azures.

• Red Chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia): hairstreaks & sphinx.

• Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifoia): birds.

• Ninebark (Physocarp opulifolius): ninebark beetles.

• Spicebush (Lindera benzoin): spicebush swallowtails.

• Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica): red-banded hairstreaks.

• Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica): azures & dusky wings.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: TREES: are a natural part of the local ecosystem and contribute to local energy flows and nutrient cycles. Trees are some of the most prolific larval host plants, and the oak is capable of supporting over 500 species of butterfly and moth. Trees enhance the garden and yard by providing shade and beauty, protection, shelter, and food for butterflies and other wildlife.


Native trees to grow in West Tennessee include:

• Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana): gossamer winged.

• Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum): rosy maple moth.

• White Oak (Quercus alba): banded hairstreaks.

• Pawpaw (Asimina tribloba): zebra swallowtails.

• Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus): elfins & hairstreaks.

• Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis): elfins.

• Sassafras (Sassafras albidum): spicebush swallowtails.

• Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea): red-spotted purples.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: VINES: some butterflies use vines or climbing plants as host plants to lay their eggs on and to provide food for their larvae. Vines can add a new dimension to the butterfly garden as they scramble up a trellis or the side of a shed.


Native vine larval host plants to grow in Tennessee:

• Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum): grays & white admirals.

• Hops (Humulus lupus): Eastern commas.

• Moonflower (Ipomoea alba): black swallowtails.

• Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): gulf fritillaries.

• Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla): pipevine swallowtails.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: WEEDS: host plants are the plants where butterflies and moths lay their eggs. They’re important because those plants are what a new caterpillar will start to eat after it has hatched, and after it has consumed its egg shell. A female butterfly will lay her eggs in clusters or as single eggs, depending on the species. The eggs are often found underneath a leaf or along a plant stem. Common weeds such as nettles and thistle are favorites.


Native weed larval host plants to grow in Tennessee:

• Nettle (Urtica dioica): red admirals, peacocks, & tortoise shells.

• Plantain (Plantago major): buckeyes.

• Thistle (Silybum marianum): mylitta crescents.

• Violet (Viola sororia): great spangled fritillaries.

Butterfly species that are found in West Tennessee include:


Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton):

Caterpillar Hosts: eggs are laid and caterpillars feed before hibernating on plants such as turtlehead (Chelone glabra), hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), English plantain (Plantago lanceolata), and false foxglove (Agalinis paupercula). After overwintering, caterpillars may continue to use these plants, but may also wander and feed on unrelated plants including arrowwood (Viburnum recognitum), common lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and white ash (Fraxinus americana).


Adult Food: nectar from flowers of milkweed, viburnum, and wild rose.


Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes):

Caterpillar Hosts: leaves of plants in the parsley family including Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus Carota), celery (Apium graveolens), and dill (Anethum graveolens). Sometimes plants in the citrus family are preferred.


Adult Food: nectar from flowers including red clover, milkweed, and thistle.


Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice):

Caterpillar Hosts: plants in the pea family including alfalfa (Medicago sativa), white clover (Trifolium repens), and pea (Pisum sativum).


Adult Food: nectar of many plants.


Cloudless Sulphur: (Phoebis sennae):

Caterpillar Hosts: cassia species in the pea family.


Adult Food: nectar from many different flowers with long tubes including Cordia, bougainvillea, cardinal flower, hibiscus, lantana, and wild morning glory.


Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma):

Caterpillar Hosts: all members of the elm and nettle families including American elm (Ulmus americana), hops (Humulus lupulus), nettle (Urtica dioica), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), and wood nettle (Laportea canadensis).


Adult Food: rotting fruit and tree sap.


Eastern-Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas):

Caterpillar Hosts: plants in the pea family including yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), various species of vetch (Vicia sativa), clover (Trifolium repens), wild pea (Lathyrus vestitus), and bush clover (Lespedeza virginica).


Adult Food: this butterfly has a low flight and a short proboscis, thus is found at flowers close to the ground which are open or short-tubed. These include white sweet clover, shepherd's needle, wild strawberry, winter cress, cinquefoil, and aster.


Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus):

Caterpillar Hosts: members of the pea family, indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), lupine (Lupinus perennis), and occasionally blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and rattlebox (Crotalaria sagittalis).


Adult Food: flower nectar.


Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis):

Caterpillar Hosts: various legumes including New Mexican locust (Robinia neomexicana), bur clover (Medicago hispida), deerweed (Lotus scoparius), desert ironwood (Olneya tesota), and vetch (Vicia sativa).


Adult Food: flower nectar.


Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus):

Caterpillar Hosts: flowers and fruits from an almost endless variety of plants, most often from the pea and mallow families, including beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), clover (Trifolium repens), cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), and mallow (Malva sylvestris).


Adult Food: nectar from many flower species including dogbane, milkweed, mint, winter cress, goldenrod, tick trefoil, and white sweet clover.


Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria Cybele):

Caterpillar Hosts: various violet species (Viola odorata).


Adult Food: nectar from many species of flowers including milkweed, thistle, ironweed, dogbane, mountain laurel, verbena, vetch, bergamot, red clover, joe-Pye weed, and purple coneflower.


Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla):

Caterpillar Hosts: various species of passion vine including maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and running pop (Passiflora foetida).


Adult Food: nectar from lantana, shepherd's needle, Cordia, and composites.


Monarch (Danaus plexippus):

Caterpillar Hosts: milkweed including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and milkweed vine (Cynanchum laeve) in the tropics. Most milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Monarch, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal and avoid Monarchs in the future.


Adult Food: nectar from all milkweeds. Early in the season before milkweeds bloom, monarchs visit a variety of flowers including dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistle. In the fall adults visit composites including goldenrod, blazing star, ironweed, and tickseed sunflower.


Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme):

Caterpillar Hosts: plants in the pea family including alfalfa (Medicago sativa), white clover (Trifolium repens), and white sweet clover (Melilotus alba).


Adult Food: nectar from many kinds of flowers including dandelion, milkweed, goldenrod, and aster.


Orangetip (Anthocharis midea):

Caterpillar Hosts: plants of the mustard family including rock cress (Aubrieta deltoidea) and winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris).


Adult Food: flower nectar including flowers of mustard and violet.


Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui):

Caterpillar Hosts: more than 100 host plants have been noted, and favorites include thistle (Cirsium vulgare), hollyhock (Alcea Rosea), mallow (Malva sylvestris), and various legumes.


Adult Food: the painted lady prefers nectar from composites that are 3-6 feet high, especially thistle. Aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-Pye weed are also favorites. Flowers from other families that are visited include red clover, buttonbush, privet, and milkweed.


Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor):

Caterpillar Hosts: plants in the pipevine family including common pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria), wooly Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa), and marsh’s Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia pentandra).


Adult Food: solely nectar from flowers including thistle, bergamot, lilac, viper's bugloss, common azalea, phlox, teasel, azalea, dame's-rocket, lantana, petunia, verbena, lupine, yellow star thistle, yerba Santa, brodiaea, and gilia.


Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta):

Caterpillar Hosts: plants of the nettle family including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), tall wild nettle (Urtica gracilis), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), pellitory (Parietoria pennsylvanica), mamaki (Pipturus albidus), and possibly hops (Humulus lupulus).


Adult Food: red admirals prefer sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and bird droppings. They visit flowers only when these are not available, and then they will nectar at common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa.


Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis):

Caterpillar Hosts: many different composites including black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia).


Adult Food: flower nectar of red clover, common milkweed, and dogbane.


Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae):

Caterpillar Hosts: wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) is preferred, but caterpillars also feed on wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis), lupine (Lupinus perennis), false lupine (Thermopsis villosa), and crown vetch (Coronilla varia).


Adult Food: flower nectar of blackberry, white sweet clover, dogbane, sunflower, and crimson clover.




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